Why Whataburger is banning open carry of guns in Texas locations

The Whataburger CEO says he wants to ease concerns of those who are 'uncomfortable' being around someone with a firearm who is not a member of law enforcement. The move came about after Texas passed an open carry law.

Eric Gay/AP
This July 9, 2015, photo shows a Whataburger restaurant in San Antonio. The iconic Texas restaurant chain will not allow the open carrying of guns on its properties, taking a stand against a new law legalizing the practice.

Whataburger – the popular regional fast-food outlet – is taking aim at Texas gun owners with a new policy that prohibits hungry visitors from openly carrying firearms while eating their No. 1 with a side of fries.

Based in San Antonio, the restaurant chain has roughly 780 locations in 10 states and employs more than 30,000 people.  

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of Texas signed legislation into law that allows citizens of the Lone Star State to visibly carry handguns in belt or shoulder holsters in many public places. The legislation also allows private property owners to prohibit open carry, and the Whataburger locations in Texas are choosing that option.

In an open letter posted on the company’s website, Whataburger president and CEO Preston Atkinson wrote, “We’ve had many customers and employees tell us they’re uncomfortable being around someone with a visible firearm who is not a member of law enforcement ....”

Open Carry Texas founder C.J. Grisham said Whataburger's policy was "premature and irresponsible,” according to The Associated Press.

"I think most gun owners that know this policy are simply not going to go to Whataburger, like me," he said.

Current state law allows residents 21 years or older and citizens on active military duty to apply for a concealed gun license after undergoing a background check, taking classes, and passing written and hands-on tests. The new law extends such rights, allowing those with concealed-carry licenses the additional privilege of openly carrying their guns.

A last-minute change to the law removed a provision that would have banned law enforcement officials from stopping a person openly carrying a firearm to check for a valid gun license.

The bill passed the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature on mainly party-line votes, according to "PBS NewsHour."

Public support for the matter seems tepid at best. In February, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 22 percent of Texans were in support of open carry of firearms with a license.

The law, which goes into effect in January, makes Texas the 45th state to allow people to openly carry guns. Only California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and South Carolina prohibit open carry.

A statement released by Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group, came out in support of Whataburger’s decision.

“Parents should be able to take their children to family-oriented restaurants like Whataburger and not have to wonder whether the person openly carrying at the table next to us is a good guy with a gun or a bad guy with a gun,” the statement read. “Whataburger’s policy ensures that no employee or customer is forced to make that judgment call.”

Other dining establishments have also banned open carry in response to consumer concerns and outside pressure, including Sonic Drive-In and Chili's Grill & Bar.

In his open letter, Whataburger CEO Atkinson touted his love of hunting and his ownership of a concealed-carry license. And he noted that while openly carrying a handgun is prohibited at the restaurants, carrying a concealed one is just fine.

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